Innovation in Construction
Over 300 people attended the BIM conference recently in Dublin, representing over 20 stakeholder organisations from government and private sector, with over 30 sponsors who helped make this event a great success. Ralph Montague BArch MRIAI, discusses Building Information Modelling (BIM) and how it is changing the design and construction process.
There is no doubt in the mind of anyone involved in the construction process that the current systems are difficult, cumbersome, and usually lead to poor outcomes. But how do we change this? On the 14-15 November, Ireland hosted an international conference looking to transform the AECO (Architectural, Engineering, Construction and Building Operations) sector, through the application of modern technologies and processes. Key experts in BIM (Building Information Modelling), IPD (Integrated Project Delivery), and Lean Construction, will be descending on Dublin, to share their experience and knowledge, to help the construction & property sector to re-think the way we carry out business.
After 5 years of recession, the Irish government are finally beginning to talk about a strategy for the construction industry. Forfas, Ireland’s policy advisory board for enterprise and science, operating under the auspices of the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, recently published their “Construction Sector Strategic Plan 2015” report, which can be downloaded here:
There is a strong emphasis in the Forfas report on technologies, like BIM (Building Information Modelling) as a means to help bring about competitiveness, innovation, off-site, lean & green construction in the sector, with BIM specifically included as one of the 36 key actions items to be addressed. It is worthwhile, at this time, to also take a look at our nearest neighbours, in the UK, who have been implementing a clear government and industry driven “Construction Strategy”, that aims to raise the level of design and construction, reduce waste, improve delivery, reduce capital expenditure, reduce carbon, and most importantly develop an industry that is “world class” in its application of modern methodologies and technologies, to attract international business (see UK BIM Strategy Task Group www.bimtaskgroup.org).
So what is BIM all about? In simple terms, its about moving away from traditional industry practices, of producing multiple and independent paper-based documents (2D drawings, schedules, specifications, bills of quantities and reports), that describe what a building is, how it is to be constructed and operated, towards creating “virtual buildings” – digital information models constructed in software, from objects that represent their real-life counterparts – objects that are containers of digital information that can easily be managed and shared between stakeholders. Its about using technology to improve the workflows, communication and processes, in an industry that is traditionally very fragmented, by producing, managing and exchanging information in better ways. Design can be explored, communicated, reviewed and resolved as much as possible, in this virtual 3D environment, before committing expensive labour and material to the real-life project on site, significantly reducing waste, abortive re-work, duplication of effort, delays, cost overruns, adversarial administration and disputes. By being able to quickly change and analyse multiple iterations of these models, designers can find optimal solutions, that will improve the construction, performance and running costs of buildings.
In short, BIM can lead to better buildings being developed faster and cheaper. But it requires people to work together in a more collaborative way than they have been doing to date. It requires people to change outdated practices, adversarial approaches, and adopt new technologies and methodologies. People don’t like change at the best of times, and without some driving incentive, or strong leadership, they are more likely to maintain the status quo of poor practices.
While the Forfas report has identified BIM as an aspect that will help unlock the potential for the sector, there is still very little understanding, or any real discussion, between leaders in government or stakeholder organisations. It is a sad reality, but the Irish construction sector is already behind other markets in this area. Beyond the UK, Northern European, the United States, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong etc., are all driving innovation and adoption of digital technologies in construction. The 2012 Mcgraw Hill Construction SmartMarket Report showed that 71% of designers and contractors in the US are now using BIM to some extent. The 2012 NBS Report showed an adoption rate in the UK of 39%. A recent RIAI survey indicated only 20% of architects in Ireland are providing BIM services. We need to get BIM on the agenda within industry organisations, not only as something that is inevitable and required, but as something that can help solve a lot of big problems.
The upcoming CITA BIM Gathering Conference on 14-15 November, provides an opportunity for organisations to hear from key experts in this area and take a positive step in upgrading their work practices.
If the Irish construction sector is going to survive, grow and provide jobs, it must compete in a global market. We need to look at what the rest of the world is doing, and not wait to be “late followers”, but make an urgent, concerted and connected effort, to be forerunners and world leaders. We can’t afford to keep making excuses about why we aren’t adopting BIM, while we continue to fall behind. The expertise and reputation gained in our industry over the boom years has become largely fragmented and is also quickly becoming irrelevant in a global market, that is expecting a more sophisticated way of delivering and maintaining construction. Our industry is small and agile enough to change quickly, to learn lessons from others, and apply these technologies and methodologies to our existing expertise in construction, to become world class in building in better ways, to solve big challenges in construction. But we need some collective approach and joined-up thinking amongst industry leaders to achieve this, and a coherent technology driven strategy, from government and institution level, that aims to change out-dated practices can help promote change.